Illustration by Zach Ghaderi
We were once dubbed Porkopolis for a reason: cased and smoked meats are in our collective DNA. Hand-crafted sausage-making—like hand-crafted everything—is on the wane throughout modern life, but a few local companies keep the tradition alive. See how many of their products end up in the area’s best hot dogs.
Originally published in the issue of July 2017; updated and expanded March 2018
Avril-Bleh Meat Market & Deli
Started: 1894; owner Len Bleh took over in 1998
Known for: Brats, Hamilton metts, cheddar metts, Swiss brats, hot dogs
Volume: 3,000 pounds a week during summer, and more during holiday weeks
Mm-mm-good: Lockhart Wurst—coarse ground brisket and Boston butt with salt, pepper, cayenne, and powdered milk
Big change: Avril-Bleh is now a federal inspected facility, allowing for interstate sales and shipping.
Blue Grass Quality Meats
What you get: All wiener products are made with local meats and no fillers and come fully cooked and ready to eat
Choices abound: With five varieties in 19 different sizes, they make a dog for any bun
Local flavor: If you prefer your coneys from Gold Star, Price Hill Chili, Dixie Chili, Camp Washington Chili, Empress Chili, Frisch’s, or The Root Beer Stand, you already love Blue Grass Quality Meat’s links.
Known for: Craft beer–infused sausages, like Hop Wurst featuring Rivertown Brewing’s IPA
Local craft beer partnerships: 13 and counting
Retail outlets: Jungle Jim’s, Country Fresh Farm Market, Clifton Market, Avril-Bleh, and (coming in May) Costco
Try this: Cider Wurst: bratwurst flavored with March First Brewing’s lime cider, lime zest, and lime juice
Production: BrewCity makes their sausages at Avril-Bleh, and both parties have an eye on expansion.
Location: Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine
Six generations: Bob Lillis Jr. is the fifth generation of his family to run the business, tracing back to German-born Ernie Eckerlin; Bob’s children and nephew now join him behind the Findlay Market counter.
Small batches: Eckerlin makes its products in 10-pound batches via an old hand-cranked sausage stuffer, offering everything from Italian and Polish sausages to kielbasa, bockwurst, hot metts, and andouille.
Kroeger & Sons Meats
Started: 1972; Essence Gannaway has been there since 2005 and sole owner since 2015
Located: Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine
Volume: On a busy summer weekend, 2,500 pounds of 50 varieties of chicken, pork, beef, and lamb sausage
Old flames: Authentic German bratwurst using Paul Kroeger’s original recipe; beer metts with Moerlein OTR ale
New loves: Chicken Parmesan links made with chicken breast, spaghetti sauce, cheese, and breadcrumbs—the whole dish in a sausage
Queen City Sausage
Started: 1965 by Elmer Hensler, who is still owner and operator
Located: Camp Washington
Not just dogs: Try the natural casing smoked sausages, goetta, and chorizo
Home team: Official sausage of the Cincinnati Reds. On average, the Reds sell about 75,000 pounds of Queen City bratwurst and mettwurst each season at Great American Ball Park
Old school: The business has expanded 12 times since it opened, but the original location has remained the same.
Stehlin’s Meat Market
Located: Colerain Township
The go-to’s: Smoked yard sausage, bratwurst, mettwurst, and Italian sausage
Origin story: In 1913, a flood stopped 21-year-old John Stehlin from walking cattle to Cincinnati’s stockyards. He convinced his boss to let him slaughter the cows himself, and a meat market was born
Family links: Grandsons John, Denny, Ron, and Dick run the market today
Classified: The sausages are all made with Stehlin’s secret blend of spices; the German sausages feature a mild combination of salt, pepper, sage, and mustard seed.